Rights group criticises Uganda's 'troubling' social media tax

Kampala, Uganda (PANA) - Human Rights Watch, an international human rights organisation, has joined in the chorus of  criticism of the Ugandan government for imposing "a troubling new set of tax rules" on social media users.

The new law that went into effect on 1 July, requires social media users – including of popular apps like WhatsApp, Twitter, and Facebook - to pay a daily fee of 200 Ugandan Shilling (US$0.05). The levy will be collected through mobile money services which are run by local telecom companies, for which the new law – passed by Uganda’s parliament back in May – also imposes a 1 percent tax for every transaction.

Human Rights Watch said in a statement that the government claims the taxes will raise revenue for the benefit of everyone in the country,. However, the rights group said, the new fees actually appear to be just another way for authorities to stifle free speech.

The statement noted that both government critics and the media in Uganda have been silenced through intimidation by security forces, while online public debate has also faced a clampdown, like when the government  tried to block all access to social media during the elections and the subsequent inauguration of President Yoweri Museveni in 2016.

"Uganda guarantees the rights to freedom of speech, association, and access to information in its own laws and is a party to several international treaties that also provide key protections. But if strictly implemented, these new tax rules will mean many Ugandans, 27 percent of whom live on less than US$1.25 a day, will not be able to exercise these rights via social media, which will become much less accessible," Human Rights Watch said.

It added that this is especially significant in a country where more and more people are turning to social media to communicate their dissatisfaction with the government, as well as using it to organize peaceful protests. Certain groups in Uganda, such as the hearing impaired, also rely on social media to access services and information they wouldn’t ordinarily be able to.

"Taxing anyone to use social media is an affront to their basic human rights. Uganda can try to dress up this draconian new tax as a benefit, but in reality it is just another clumsy attempt to stamp on free speech," Human Rights Watch said.

Amnesty International ha salso slammed Uganda for introducing social media tax saying it is a means of curtailing freedom of expression.

In a statement, Amnesty International said the tax, which came into effect on 1 July, is a clear attempt to undermine the right to freedom of expression and must be scrapped.
-0- PANA MA 3July2018

03 july 2018 07:43:49

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